Maximising Biodiversity in Greater Manchester

Dave Bishop (Friends of Chorlton Meadows) has recently written a report on Greater Manchester’s biodiversity and hopes that AMOSS members will read it and view it as an attempt to increase the Association’s understanding of our local green spaces and their wildlife. He also hopes that members will view it as a call to action.

Below is his introduction to the report (download full report here):

The world is losing biodiversity at an alarming rate and some authorities believe this to be as grave a threat as climate change.

The loss of biodiversity is happening everywhere – including here in Greater Manchester. For example, when I first knew the Mersey Valley, around 40 years ago, it was surprisingly biodiverse for an area only a few miles from the centre of a major British city. My particular interest was, at that time, and has been ever since, the Valley’s plant-life and I learned a great deal about wild plants and botany there. I also learned that plants are the foundation of all ecosystems. Since then the diversity of the Valley’s plant-life has declined markedly – particularly over the last 10 or 15 years.

This year, as a result of my participation in the Greater Manchester Local Record Centre’s ‘Grey to Green’ project, I’ve had an opportunity to examine several of Greater Manchester’s green spaces – from Prestwich to Wilmslow and from Wigan to Broadbottom. There’s a certain sameness about the vegetation in these places and they all seem to be dominated by a limited suite of very common plant species. Although I can’t prove it, I suspect that all of these spaces were more diverse a generation ago.

Most groups of environmental activists and volunteers in the Manchester region are aware that we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. Unfortunately, far too many of them seem to think that this crisis can be resolved by planting things e.g. trees and “wild flowers”. This approach not only misses the point entirely but could well be counter-productive. It is unlikely that the “Wild flowers” will be the correct species for the site; at best they will probably be out-competed by the very common, ‘coarse’ species mentioned above and at worst there’s a possibility that certain arbitrarily introduced species could become invasive.

Ill-considered tree planting, three or four decades ago, has proved an utter disaster for the biodiversity of many of our local green spaces. Among the drifts of coarse weeds there are now dense, gloomy, species-poor plantations of even-aged trees. These should be regularly thinned out but this never seems to happen. In addition to the planted trees there are countless thousands of self-sown tree seedlings and saplings springing up everywhere: Ash, Birch, Willow, Oak and Hawthorn; these too are shading out more interesting and varied vegetation.  The last things our green spaces need are more trees!

What our green spaces actually need is sympathetic, ecologically sound management.  In fact, most of our green spaces have had credible management plans written for them – but these plans are hardly ever implemented. In addition, Manchester City Council has published a Biodiversity Action Plan (see below) which is also credible – but I see little signs of it being implemented.

All of these points are covered in more detail in my Biodiversity Report.

Manchester Biodiversity Action Plan

The Manchester Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) is intended to cover the period 2012 to 2016. (Download it by clicking here: BioDiversity). At the end of the plan is a long list of activities to be undertaken, by the Council and its partners, in order to meet the plan’s objectives. Some of these activities have completion dates associated with them whilst others are open-ended. I believe that AMOSS should question the Council about how much progress has been made on the open-ended activities – particularly the 10 listed below:

  1. To ensure biodiversity is sensitively managed in parks, open spaces, cemeteries and waterways across the city (BAP p. 25).
  2. Biodiversity training made available for all Manchester City Council land managers (BAP p.25).
  3. Biodiversity management embedded into grounds maintenance contracts (BAP p.25).
  4. To investigate opportunities for adjusting maintenance to improve biodiversity provision with registered social landlords and private landowners (BAP p.26).
  5. To provide biodiversity guidance, advice and assistance for SBI [Sites of Biological Importance] landowners and land managers (BAP p. 27).
  6. To ensure annual five percent improvement on SBIs in active conservation management in line with Defra guidance (BAP p.27).
  7. Trialling of grass-cutting adjustments and better biodiversity design and management, including roundabouts and roadside verges (BAP p. 27).
  8. To fully comply with the NERC duty of 2006 where the Council where the Council and public bodies must in exercising its functions have regard to conserving biodiversity (“NERC duty” refers to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, 2006) (BAP p.30).
  9. To encourage schools to establish and maintain school wildlife areas and use them for curriculum-based study (BAP p. 34).
  10. To create improved connectivity between green spaces (BAP p. 36).

I believe that if the Council could be persuaded to actually take these promised actions, our local biodiversity would be in a much healthier state.

Dave Bishop, September 2013

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